L A D I E S and G E N T L E M E N . . .
M i S S E R M A F R A N K L i N !
(Erma's LP on Epic Records, titled "Her Name Is Erma" - 1962)
Her first and only album for the label, entitled "Her Name Is Erma", surfaced in 1962 and mixed jazz-flavored standards such as "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye", the stunning "Detour Ahead", "Time After Time" and "The Man I Love", with R&B oriented tunes like "Never Let Me Go", "Saving My Love For You" and "Pledging My Love".
"The Epic sessions were really good", says Erma. "I did them all in New York, which was my home from 1961 to 1972. There was a real family atmosphere between me and the musicians and producers. I had quite a bit of input regarding what songs we did and a lot of the sessions were recorded `live' with the band, orchestra, the background singers (including Valerie Simpson) and me. It was a shame the records didn't do better."
("Abracadabra" written by Van McCoy is Erma's last single on Epic and most valuable single for collectors.)
The singles didn't fair too well either. One of them, "Abracadabra", was written by the late Van McCoy, has since become a desirable Northern Soul item. Curiously, one of the singles, "Time After Time" backed with "Don't Wait Too Long", was given a belated release in the U.K. on the Soul City label in the late sixties.
"Even though I wasn't doing too well at Columbia, I was working all the time. I was on the road with the 16-piece Lloyd Price Orchestra as a featured vocalist.
"Lloyd was, of course, one of the major innovators in early r&b and he'd had a whole string of big hits. I joined his show in 1961 as the resident singer and when I left in 1966, I was still earning the same amount of money! One of the problems was, I guess, that we shared the same manager! Well, what with everything at Epic and this too, I felt I just wanted to quit."
After a five-year stint touring with the R&B star, Erma quit "to go work for IBM where I earned more money than I ever did on the road!"
Thankful for the educational training she'd had earlier, she was performing executive functions in one of the company's major offices. "I still wanted to sing deep down but there was a good deal of security and good money, much more than I had ever gotten on the road. I ended up practically running the office - because I really loved what I was doing: I was working in an administrative capacity".
(Lloyd Price mapping out his tour stops - surrounded by photos of Erma and other artists in his entourage^)
It was 1967. Sister Aretha's career blew up and Erma began receiving offers she couldn't refuse.
"My then-manager called me up during the late part of 1967 and asked me if I was interested in recording again. I was more than a little reluctant because I refused to give up my IBM job but I said if we could do it in my spare time, I would. So we went along, made some demos and took them to a man named Bert Berns at Shout Records.
"I finally agreed to sign with Shout Records but only provided I could record at night because I wanted to keep my IBM job," she recalls.
(Trading card from the Rhino Box-Set "Beg, Scream $ Shout! The Big Ol' Box of 60's Soul")
Erma began sessions for what would have been an album. After cutting two Jimmy Reed tunes (he was one of my favorite artists during my college years") "Big Boss Man" and "Baby What You Want Me To Do", plus Carolyn's songs, "Don't Catch The Dog's Bone". We went in to do a follow-up after "Dog's Bone" did OK on the R&B charts.
The song they went in to record was written by Berns himself with Jerry Ragavoy called "Piece of my Heart". Legend has it that Berns originally offered the song to Van Morrison whom he had worked with while he was in the R&B style group Them.
As Erma recalls. "Bert had written a song with Jerry Ragovoy called "Piece Of My Heart", especially for me to record. When I first saw it, I found they'd written it in a calypso-type beat but I told them I just couldn't do it like that, so they let me do it my way! I'm famous for changing songs around, you know! Well, they put the record out and I didn't think too much about it. Next thing I knew, I started getting calls at home about it and one day, Bert phoned up and told me to get down to the office - and fast! When I got there, I found the record was on the Top 100 and I was just knocked out".
(This is the U.K. version on the London Record label in 1967 of "Piece Of My Heart")
"I began having a real mental tussle trying to decide what to do. "We did three or four sessions in all. I think. I remember the one where we cut the follow-up, "Open Up My Soul" in particular". Remember we did this during my lunch hour at IBM". After a great deal of thought, seeing the reaction to the record, I reluctantly decided to quit my job and sign up with Aretha's booking agency, Queens Booking."
Queens Booking got Erma work right away from the success of "Piece of my Heart." "Piece Of My Heart" stayed on the U.K. Top 100 for some time and was a Top 10 R&B single throughout the U.S.
"Bert had called me up and told me we ought to work on an album. I had rehearsed some of the material and just as when the time came to come in to record it Bert died unexpectedly, leaving Erma's career at a standstill.
"When I called up the office, there was no reply and I thought it was strange because everyone had told me how important it all was to get out an LP to capitalize on "Piece of my Hearts" success., so I tried Queen Booking, who were in the same building. Imagine my shock when they said "Didn't you know? Bert Berns died this morning."
"I was really crushed, because aside from the fact that he'd been helping me build my career, he had been a really wonderful guy. And this came at a time when it looked like things would really happen for me. After Bert died his wife Ilene took over the company but frankly, she didn't know what to do. Well, I said I'd sit out my contract, again.
" I did a session with Freddie Scott as producer but nothing much else happened." Then Shout Records lost the master tapes from some of the sessions including one we'd done on a new arrangement for the old Bobby Bland hit, "Share Your Love With Me" (just when we were about to put it out). Aretha heard that one and after the tape had been lost she remembered how we'd done it and did it herself. I was pleased it was a hit for her but, of course, I'd have been happier if it had come out for me!"
Since Erma's Shout contract had expired she kept busy in the studio recording backing vocals for Aretha on her first two Atlantic albums, "I Never Loved A Man" and "Aretha Arrives". With still no record deal Erma started getting requests for solo appearances from the Apollo Theatre, Madison Square Garden, Carnegie Hall, the Coconut Grove in Los Angeles and the Tropicana Hotel in Las Vegas. The success of "Piece Of My Heart" was building and offers from record labels came pouring in, among others, R.C.A and Brunswick (still owned by Decca at the time). In 1969 Erma visited the U.K. playing the Royal Albert Hall as part of a European tour. .Erma opted for Brunswick since Carolyn was recording for R.C.A.
Her first Brunswick single, "Gotta Find Me A Lover (24 Hours A Day)" hit the R&B charts for 3 weeks and peaked at # 40, started filling dance floor in the early Seventies. In the U.K., an undercurrent of interest in Erma's dance sides during the first half of the 70s led to several reissues.
(Issued on MCA, this was Erma's last, but not least to feature fresh recordings).
Erma on Compact Disc Erma's Home Page
Photo Source: ^ - "Lloyd Price Rides High Again" (Sepia - May 1964)